This Is Me Is So Me

Almost all blogs had a 2018 New Year post except me.  Though 18 days late, let me then post my 2018 New Year post.  Let me feature my 2018 New Year song entitled This Is Me from the movie The Greatest Showman.

This Is Me is so me.  After listening to the song and watching the lyric video, I could not help myself from not tearing up.  The message, the lyrics and the tune really cuts deep.  With my eccentricities, my weirdness and my oddness, This Is Me fully represent my being me.

This post maybe late for 18 days yet I know I will face the year 2018 with much courage because I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be THIS IS ME!  Life’s hurdles for 2018 may be inevitable and I may not be The Greatest Showman but I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies THIS IS ME

nengkoy and i

Ito ako!

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Minalungao: A Kept Secret of Nueva Ecija

Prior to leaving for a fifteen-day Turkey adventure, there is one Philippine travel destination that I and some colleagues have been to which I failed to feature and write about.  Three reasons for my failure of writing about this Nueva Ecija place is because (a) I was too pre-occupied about my upcoming Turkey journey; (b) I was too lazy; and, (c) I’ve gone selfish and don’t want to share the beauty and splendor of Minalungao National Park.

I had the least expectations about my going to Minalungao.  It is because I’ve never heard about this place in the first place.  And since it is not a popular Philippine destination, the site must be some mediocre place located in Nueva Ecija.  I was also not expecting much because the scale of planning compared to the amount of planning I have to do with my out-of-the-country planning was way way different.  Lastly, I had the least anticipations because I know quite a number of friends and colleagues who hailed from Nueva Ecija yet none of them seem to recommend visiting Minalungao. 

But as soon as we reached this national park and I alighted from our rented van, my jaw dropped!  I was so surprised to find out that Minalungao was such a Philippine hidden gem.  Also, what is so distinct about the place is that only locals of Nueva Ecija province seem to be around.  There seem to be very few tourists from Manila or even from abroad.

Minalungao is a protected national park considered to be one of the very few remaining natural environments that is close to Manila.  This ecotourist destination offers breath-taking scenery, easy hiking trails, green pristine river, inimitable rock formations and explorable natural caves.

Let my photos speak for Minalungao… 

After exploring what Minalungao and while we were heading to a cheap hotel in Nueva Ecija city center to stay overnight, it was the time I realized why people of Nueva Ecija seem to not recommend it.  Maybe it is because it is so beautiful, Nueva Ecija-ns want Minalungao to be a secret and be a well-kept natural environment.  People of Nueva Ecija wants to keep it for themselves because they don’t want this beautiful nature and physical world phenomena to be spoiled, be blemished and be destroyed by unmindful, insensible and ill-mannered tourists.

That is why after reading this, keep it to yourself. You can visit Minalungao (of course) but never tell anyone about it. Keep it at its status, that is, a secret natural environmental gem.

Kaya kapag nabasa mo ‘to, hwag mo ipag-sabi.

Filipinos’ Image of Turkey & the “Pasabog” of Pasabag

The Tourism Office of Turkey should pay me! Hahaha! This is because there has been quite a number of Filipinos (mostly my friends and relatives) who are now wanting to tour and visit this transcontinental country of Eurasia.

Turkish people should know that there seem to be some level of dreadful and critical image lurking within the minds of Filipinos about Turkey.  May be it is the media responsible in doing so.  It is because we Filipinos are only informed about Turkey when some bad or terrible new happened in that side of the world.

Actually, friends and colleagues were amazed to find out how beautiful Turkey is through the photos I posted in my Facebook and Instagram accounts.  But their first question if they happen to meet me about my Turkey journey is if it is safe and secured.  My usual answer? I was also hesistant on pursuing my Turkey journey prior to leaving Manila.  But towards the end of my Turkish adventure did I realize that it is one safe, harmless and innocuous place that I have been to.

To further prove my amazement about Turkey, let me feature the explosively beautiful Pasabag.

It’s a valley with unique and astonishing rock formations where you’ll get a feel of Cappadocia’s striking and iconic fairy chimneys. The tuff stone pillars of Pasabag are easily recognizable. It stands at 10 to 15 meters high often with twin or triple rock caps.

Pasabag is often referred to as the Monks Valley.  This was due to St. Simon and the monks who sought refuge inside this rock formations. 

Monks sought shelter in Pasabag after attracting unwanted funfair-like popularity after the public learned that they are some kind of a miracle-makers. To create shelter, monks would start by carving rooms for themselves at the bottom of the fairy chimneys and work their way to the top.  They were said to only descend to receive food and drinks from their disciples.

With the “pasabog” (translation: explosive) beauty like Pasabag and all the other equally amazing spots of Turkey, I hope that this country would soon erase (or at least improve) their undesirable image among the Filipinos.  I hope that this country would not remain to be like the monks of Pasabag who chose to be left unknown from the awareness of the itchy-footed Filipino travelling wanderlusts.

Yung makakating paa dyan, seyp po sa Torki!

The Blue Mosque of Instanbul

Sultan Ahmed Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque should not be missed by any tourist in Istanbul.  Set on one side of the magnificent Sultanahmet Square, this vast mosque with high-domed ceiling is accessible to non-worshippers only at certain times of the day.

But don’t let the time of its closure put you off! The beautiful exterior can be considered one engineering marvel.  It is tagged to be one of the most impressive monuments in the world.  And its interior is a beautiful display that exudes peace, harmony and goodwill.

Can’t say much about this place for I was astounded by the massive beauty of the Blue Mosque.  Let me just post numerous photos I took of this majestic world wonder. 

Ang ganda!

Bravura of Hagia Sophia

VoucherCloud, a money-saving app, last year released a world map that identifies each country’s most popular tourist destination based on TripAdvisor’s top-rated “things to do” feature.  Surprisingly and with a bit of disappointment, the stand out for my country, the Philippines, was Kayangan Lake.  But where is that?  I wonder how this lake beat and knocked out world-class destinations like El Nido, Boracay and Bohol.

spectacular especially at night
massive indoor view
impressive minbar, the pulpit where the imam stands to delivers sermons
grand calligraphic panes!
selfie muna
monolithic marble cubes: these massive liquid container is used to distribute juice to the public for holy nights and prayer celebrations

But when I checked Turkey, I was super happy to know that this beautiful country’s top destination was the Hagia Sophia.  Though they seem to be a flop in the Philippines, VoucherCloud and TripAdvisor are so correct with the Turkey result.  I have recently been to Turkey and only a stupid, puny and absurd tourist will miss the majesty, grandeur and beauty of the great Hagia Sophia.

As one of Turkey’s most celebrated landmark, the great Hagia Sophia was a Byzantine church for 916 years. It was later converted into an imperial mosque by a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and stayed as such for 482 years.  Then in 1935, it was transformed into a museum and was later considered to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It may have a turbulent past but because of its rich and significant historical background, Hagia Sophia easily earns respect from all religions and occupations.

Though every nook and corner of this building seem to have an intense and loud story to tell and despite being the busiest and most visited attraction in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia still maintains its calm and peaceful effect towards its visitors.

I don’t have a tip on how to explore this ancient structure.  The only advice I can give to all those who will be fortunate to visit this top Turkish destination is to breathe, digest and admire the bravura of the rich stories of this spectacular structure.

mother mary with baby jesus in the middle. to the left is emperor john komnenos while to her right is empress irene
theotokos! apse mosaic
lovely dome
ancient deisis mosaic treasure…
at awe!

Nakakamangha!

Touched a Weeping Column and Met a Coequal Villain at Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern as a tourist spot at the tourist-infested Sultanahmet area of Istanbul seem to have always been overshadowed by the more grandeur, more magnificent and more historically ornate Sophia Hagia and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). All these three spots surrounding the Sultanahmet Square are within short walking distances only.

But the Basilica Cistern seem to have always been the last choice that tourists would go to if the 3 places to visit in Sultanahmet would be Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Cistern Basilica.  This is why it dawned in me that it would be smarter to start with the latter before heading to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  Making the Basilica Cistern my first spot to visit would make me avoid the hordes of noisy and annoying tourists who later in the day would flock the underground treasure of a place after their respective visits to both Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

still with puffy eyes… need to drag myself from bed…
eerie yet majestic
no wonder Istanbul does not have an underground train system… treasure lies beneath…

My temporary smartness actually paid off.  On the morning I visited, there was actually only one Caucasian and a family of four Chinese tourists inside the cistern.  The rest of the tourists that morning I suppose were at a long queue at the gates of both Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Without seeing yet and not yet been overwhelmed by the magnificence of the Istanbul’s icons (Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque), I was able to fully grasp, value and appreciate the historical richness and structural splendor of the Basilica Cistern.  I was at awe as soon as my eyes were able to adopt to the underground darkness.

One mini-highlight was the Hen’s Eye column.  It is the only column of the site engraved with what looks like numerous eyes which appears to be weeping as dripping water from the ceiling runs down to this column.  The dripping water has left its mark over the years, turning this specific column into a medley of blue, brown and green hues.  The Hen’s Eye is also known as the weeping column which is said to be engraved in tribute to the thousands of slaves who died during the construction of the cistern.

weeping column
need to touch it

And since I had limited time to read about Basilica Cistern prior to going to Turkey, only when I reached the end of this ancient water reservoir was I surprised to realize that this place houses the head of my co-villain Medusa!  After giving some imaginary greetings and salutations to the giant Medusa heads, I never missed my chance of taking a photo with her.

Now I understand why Dan Brown has chosen this Byzantine-made murky, eerie and creepy expanse as the final site in one of his famous novels.  I truly marveled at the sheer engineering magnificence of creating such an expansive underground cavern below the colorful ancient city of Constantinople (now Istanbul).  I was so thankful that there were few tourists around for I really got to see, smell and digest the beauty and richness of the place.  It made my Medusa and Basilica Cistern visit such a very gratifying and enriching experience.

co-villainous
medusa!
the wicked tandem!

Nagkamustahan bigla kami ng gagang Medusa!

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Capricious Cappadocia

Flying a hot air balloon seem far fetched and was never in my bucket list.  It is because I keep my list achievable, rational and realistic.  Though part of my bucket list is to visit the transcontinental country of Turkey, my flying a hot air balloon in Cappadocia was just in one of the plenty of things to do that I would not regret in case destiny would not let it happen.

And when I stepped on the tarmac of Kayseri Airport (after a domestic flight from Istanbul), I already concluded that flying the hot air balloon would be next to impossible.  It was snowing!

Prior to going to Turkey specifically in Cappadocia, one travel tip I read in various blogs which I realized to be very significant is to book for a hot air balloon ride as soon as you arrived and checked-in in your hotel.  Since hot air balloon ride is synonymous to Cappadocia, I suppose all hotels in Cappadocia has contacts to hot air balloon operators.  A tourist must request/book for the soonest possible day of the ride because not all days in capricious Cappadocia would permit flying because of erratic weather conditions.

And since Cappadocia just experienced the first snow of the upcoming winter, I already gave up the idea that I would be riding the world famous hot air balloon in this part of the planet.  The hotel owner told me that it would be impossible for operators to fly for the next couple of days.  He nevertheless told me that I am booked on the day hot air balloon flying resumes.  On when it is, only the weather knows according to the hotel owner.

But on the last night of my 5 days stay in Cappadocia while I was packing my bags for my return to Istanbul, the hotel owner was knocking on my door to inform me that hot air balloon ride resumes early tomorrow morning.  That I got to be ready at 5:00 AM because a shuttle van will pick me up at the hotel so as to bring me to the site where all the preparations and flying happens.

When I told the hotel owner that I may not be flying anymore because my flight back to Istanbul is tomorrow after lunch, he gleefully told me that all flying happens in the morning and that I will surely be back at the hotel by 10:00 AM.

On the last night of my stay in Cappadocia, I concluded that part of the heavy snow that fell on my first day in Cappadocia must probably be fragments from a lucky star that were sprinkled by the heavens.  I got to ride the hot air balloon! 

When our balloon was landing on the plains of Cappadocia, I have already concluded that riding the hot air balloon was one of the unforgettable highlights of my Turkey journey.  It was so surreal, the exhilarating experience was actually more than achieving and crossing out an entry in my bucket list.

Jusko, jusko, jusko! Salamat!